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Huawei steps into Samsung gap

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Barely weeks after Samsung buried its latest large-format smartphone, Huawei stepped into the breach with its most serious contender yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Five years ago, which represents many lifetimes in the smartphone world, Samsung sent shockwaves through the industry when it announced it had sold 10-million units of its Galaxy Note, the device that introduced the world to the “phablet” concept of large-screen phones.

Its wild popularity utterly contradicted all the derision heaped on it by hip online technology media. Engadget, then still enamoured with the iPhone’s miniature screen, harrumphed that it was “obnoxiously large”. No wonder people tend to forget the first Note had a mere 5.3-inch screen.

By the time Apple caught up with a 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014, the same publication soothingly declared, “The market has changed, and it was high time Apple did the same.”

Today, the phablet market is the most vigorously contested of all smartphone segments. However, the main contenders for the large-screen crown have all but abdicated. Samsung’s beautifully designed Note 7 not only crashed and burned, but also proved to be such a public relations disaster that it became the first device ever banned by model name from all major airlines.

Meanwhile, Apple declared the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to be “the best iPhone we have ever made”, stating the obvious while launching a truly unexciting phone. Only Samsung’s failings made Apple look good.

Now suddenly, a new contender has stepped into the breach. Chinese-headquartered Huawei, which has slowly clawed its way into third place in global smartphone sales with quality phones at competitive prices, is about to make a big leap.

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At a launch event in Munich last week, it unveiled one of the most ambitious phablets the market has seen, packing no less than 5.9-inches of display into its new Mate 9. But the size is not the main thing going for it. Two other features stand out dramatically.

Almost as a response to the Samsung battery blow-out, Huawei has made “a safe, faster-charging battery” one of the centrepieces of the phone. It houses a massive 4000 mAh high-density battery, using its own technology that it has branded SuperCharge.

It promises more than two days of uninterrupted performance., and early tests bear this out. Using the new USB-C connector type and a proprietary cable, it charges in half the time of previous versions, and a 10 minute quick charge gives half a day of usage. This is on top of the kind of battery management options that have given the Huawei P series an edge since it startled the industry with the P6 in 2013.

To overcome fears that this “super battery” could be another Note 7 debacle in the making, Huawei has provided more details on its battery management tools than ever before, spelling out what it calls “Super Safe 5-gate protection”, and providing the user with “real-time voltage, current and temperature monitoring to eliminate safety hazards”.

The second standout feature of the phone is a dual-lens camera engineered in collaboration with lens pioneers Leica. Their relationship made its debut with the Huawei P9 earlier this year, and has been cemented just eight months later with an even better camera: one that gives the Samsung S7 and S7 Edge a run for their image money.

The optical performance of the camera module is given steroids by the dual-lens format, made up of a 12-megapixel/F2.2 RGB sensor and a 20-megapixel/F2.2 monochrome sensor. Huawei has used what it calls “fusion algorithms” to enable  the two lenses to work in concert.

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“The RGB sensor captures true-to-life colours, while the monochrome sensor captures intricate details and depth, resulting in the iconic Leica Image Style,” ran the launch announcement. “When paired with the leading dual-lens camera Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) solution and the industry’s first dual-camera pixel binning technology, the Huawei Mate 9 has a superior night shot capability.”

At the launch, Huawei Consumer Business Group CEO  Richard Yu said that the phone was also designed to address the “top three pain points of smartphone users: ageing performance, meaning it slows down over time; not enough battery life; and an average camera”.

“You always need a better camera,” he declared. That is taken for granted by most users. But how does one address ageing performance? The longer a phone is in use, the more the battery degrades, the more memory allocation becomes clogged, and the more the software becomes corrupted. Yu believes Huawei has the answer. And it is close to artificial intelligence.

“A machine learning algorithm makes predictive allocation of resources. This enables smart memory allocation, and smart storage optimisation. By learning the user’s behaviour patterns, it makes sure the highest priority applications are given priority in system resources.

“Our new EMUI 5.0 interface for Android learns from users and from apps, and provides spontaneous resource optimisation. So, after eight months of usage, instead of the phone having deteriorated, you will see over 80% performance improvement.”

This potential allowed Yu to deliver one of the most powerful punchlines yet in the brief history of smartphone launches: “Born fast, stays fast.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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